The Balkan Pie

(Dave wasn’t able to get WordPress to cooperate this morning. So he sent this to me and asked me to post it for him — Amanda)

I’ve always said that unity and broadness in sf/fantasy were a net positive for the very people doing their best to narrow and Balkanize it.

This post comes out of a couple of statements I’ve read over the past week. It occurred to me that people just don’t grasp what is going on and just what effect that’ll have on the writer (and wider world).  I paraphrase:

“SF is getting Balkanized.”

“It’s always been Balkanized. This just the latest dose. And anyway, it doesn’t affect anyone outside the few fans who go to cons. That’s all an author sees, but they’re not typical of readers.”

And

“And so what if it is getting divided? It makes no difference at all. People always choose what to read.”

Well, yes.

And… NO.

Publishing, and the whole writing world is reflective and reactive to the wider world. Its battles are small but they are the echoes of a conflict outside, particularly in the US.

And, in my dispassionate outsider’s view, as a fairly moderate sort of guy who fits no political party well, but finds the modern Left worryingly authoritarian and totalitarian…  The US is more divided than I’ve ever seen in my twenty odd years of watching. Yes, it has been divided before, but this time there are disruption factors that just weren’t there before.

And the same is true in publishing, and in sf/fantasy. Before, there were a few large publishers to push things back in line, and basically to ensure that it was unity or… exile and death (at least as published author). So while there were little Balkans in the closed circles of the cons and fans, not a lot of that seeped beyond. That began to change when the Publishing Industry became predominantly left wing, along with the media, with whom it enjoyed close links. With distribution and bookshops generally in thrall, it stopped being an in-house game – at least for the dominant group. You had a plethora of bloggers and media stables (the Gawker group was a frequent player), as well as reviewers from Locus to Radish reviews all pushing doctrinaire books, and either trashing or not covering the ones that didn’t live up to their narrative, either in the author’s public stance (Orson Scott Card) or content. Aggregator sites – File 770 — skewed coverage further, elevating their ‘side’ and either ignoring the other or deliberately spinning it as negative. Now, I am sure they didn’t plan this: they were just in control, and promoting their own.  We’re not talking of deep thinkers or clever conspirators. If the bias got pointed out to them, they are experts at rationalizing it away, and claiming the end justified the means, and that they were doing it for everyone’s good. The non-dominant group went on being polite about the Left’s books, buying them and reading them – they had no real alternative.  Basically access and sales to the left were closed to them. The center and right were painted as inferior, bad and awful (to quote some actual words used).

The right and center had little choice but to put up with this.  Traditional publishing in the US (and I believe the same in UK and Australia) skews hard Left.  I know, Camestros will go into denial loops, but the industry is essentially Left wing,  Historically they controlled access, sales outlets, and distribution, media, critical assessment. The result of that politically dominant position has been mirrored in buying choices – which authors were bought, which authors were heavily promoted, which authors got book-tours etc.  Of course they tended to buy books whose world view and therefore politics tended to reflect their own. At a conservative estimate I’d say that 9 out of 10 authors published by traditional publishing in the last 10 years are left wing, and often overtly so. It’s slowly been drifting that way for at least 50 years.

At the same time Traditional Publisher fiction book sales in general

slide 1

http://www.slideshare.net/PublishersLaunch/the-changing-mix-of-what-sells-in-print-jonathan-nowell-nielsen-book

 

and sf/fantasy in specific have been on a rapid decline. Looking at the last three years – data from Nielsen via PW.

slide 2

‘Oh but it recovered in 2015’ you say. Not if you take out The Martian – a single book selling about 1200 000 – a once off and not a trend indicator:

slide 3

 

At the same time serious disruption factor – in the shape of e-books and Amazon as a distributor changed everything.

slide 4

 

Graph from https://janefriedman.com/myth-print-coming-back-bookstores-rise/

As a result of that disruption factor the historically non-dominant sector – the moderate and conservative authors started getting real traction with audiences OUTSIDE the cons for the first time. Not of course through the left-controlled media, but through increasingly popular blogs, twitter, Facebook.  This has been a massive disruptor too. The big 5 no longer can prevent balkanization on their side too.

That’s history and background.  The result of that politically dominant position has been mirrored in editors buying choices – which authors were bought, which authors were heavily promoted, which authors got book-tours etc.  The left owned 90 of the authors, 99.4% of publishing, and sold to 100% of the audience.  Anyone who wasn’t left, sold only to what of the well wasn’t poisoned, and could not counter it.

Now the proportion of the demographic of the US that self-identifies as left wing has reached… 24%. [http://www.gallup.com/poll/188129/conservatives-hang-ideology-lead-thread.aspx] For ease of calculation I’ll be generous and call that 25% or one quarter or one in four readers.

I know it is really fashionable and ‘cool’ in NY publishing circles and among their camp followers to say “well the other ¾ don’t read and certainly can’t write. They’re stupid, need our leadership and to be told what is good for them.” It’s also really, really suicidal for the industry to say this, and not supported by any empirical evidence. And believe me – they’ve tried to find or manufacture it.

When one establishes this point, if the NYC publisher hasn’t put her fingers in her ears and run off screaming “la la la! I can’t hear you.” They then say “Yes, but that’s history. It’s no use fighting it. You’re on the wrong side of it. They are the young and that’s the future. Look at the young (thirty-something) movers and shakers in the field. Hard Left, invested in PC. Worrying about micro-aggressions in their tofu-shake.”

Really? Reading isn’t evenly distributed, I would agree. But then neither are political affiliations. And neither is having children.  And neither – most importantly — is buying books. Welfare mums may well read, and so may their kids, but they don’t have a lot of disposable income. Those rainbow-haired loud movers and shakers of literary scene… how many kids have they got?  If they have one, that’s a lot. More likely they have a hamster, and hamsters don’t read much.  And yes, if they have a child they will buy books for him/her/it.  But ‘fertile’ and ‘future’ are not words that go together for this group.  Meanwhile, the moderates and conservatives working/middle class tend to have kids, and especially in flyover America, read, and have the money to buy books. That’s who will turn up for the future. It belongs to them.

Anyway, that aside: it’s the medium term that really is the issue.  Let’s talk about the finite pie.  There is the assumption that there’s a specific size pie of money from people buying books, which is divided between producers (authors), publishers and retailers. As all of them have expenses, let’s keep it at gross income.

Let’s assume – for the purpose of this discussion that the finite pie of book consumers is correct. (it is finite, but its size is quite a lot more flexible than generally accepted by Traditional Publishing). For this exercise lets it is in a steady state (it’s not, but let’s try and keep it simple.)

Now authors’ incomes (and their earning power for their publisher) are not the same. It is best described by a classic Poisson distribution, with a few authors earning a lot – but there is still an average and a median. So let’s talk about (for ease of explanation) a representative sample of 10 median authors, earning a pie of $100 000 per book split between all 10. That’s not a lot, but sadly, that’s quite plausible. http://archive.is/epAM8. That would imply between them they made roughly another $400K for their publishers, and 500K for the retailers. Given that 9 out of ten are left wing authors, that leaves 1 moderate/right wing author.  So the ‘pie’ would divided $10K each because they each sell to 100% of the spectrum…

Except they don’t. The moderates and right wing authors suffer much the same discrimination as at the Hugos.  The left 25% of the readers don’t buy many, if any, books that don’t come from the 9 left wing authors.  People like Irene Gallo of Tor Books and Damian Water of the Guardian have openly denigrated non-left wing authors as ‘bad writers’ and ‘awful writers’.  Their ideological friends believe them absolutely and won’t touch anything that doesn’t bear the imprimatur of Left Approval, and even some outsiders are affected by this torrent of abuse. So the one moderate/right author has the table further skewed against him, in that only the 75% he comes from will buy his books – and with buyers faced with 10 books, he would sell to 1/10 of 75%…  but the 9 sell 1/10 each to 100% of the audience.

So you might express the division of the $100K as $7500 for him (call him Red), and the others (call them Blue) getting $10 000 each + (1/9 of $2500) = $10278.

slide 5

 

That was the status quo 10 years back. Like-for-like authors any moderate/conservative author earned less, as well as having less support, less markets, less publicity, less awards, less reviews… just less.  It was like racing with handicap weights – you had to work a lot harder to get the same result. No I don’t think any of us went to patreon to bleg.

In the last few years that has slowly begun to turn. Firstly, Amazon provided an outlet that wasn’t dependent on traditional publishing. And, secondly, ever so slowly, readers started to apply the same discrimination – but in reverse. “I only buyBaen books” – I’ve heard that a lot. (I am starting to hear ‘I only buy Castilia or Indy’ too).

Now let’s work out what dividing Traditional Publishing by this bi-partisan discrimination (instead of one-sided partisanship) actually does to that pie.  After all, 25% exclusivity! That’s a big deal! I mean giving a micron would mean giving up 25% of exclusive advantage right?  Stay the course and damn the torpedoes, right? Because we’ve got a 25% edge. And this… believe it not, is how most File 770’s true believers think (if you can call it that.) This, it appears, is how most New York Editors think.  This it appears is how most left-wing authors think. This is certainly how most of WorldCon’s TruFen think. “We’ll kick out Vox Day and anyone doesn’t that go along with us. We don’t need them! We’ll teach them a lesson! Let them go off and die without our support!”

Yeah. Right.

Not exactly.

The financial reality is harshly the opposite.

Let’s start with the assumption that a mere 5% of customers decide that they are not going to buy books from the 9 left wing authors. The pie is still all spent.  So… instead of Blues getting 10K each + (1/9 of 2500) they get $9500 + (1/9 of $2500) =$9778.

But… Red still got his $7500 – but he ALSO got sales from 9 Blues 5%, who had each given up $500 (Yes, Some of them had been his customers all along. Some had not. We’re using these numbers as proxies and simplifications.) So his income is up nicely, to $12000. That’s a nice 60% for Red… and for Red’s publisher.

slide 6

So…  How many people in that pie CAN the Publishing Establishment and their friends and camp followers afford to alienate?  What is break-even point? The point at which in this scenario, it would have been better for the left wing author and his or her publisher to aggressively pursue unity in the field, to encourage full access to their 25% for the moderate and right wing than to have encouraged a split?  I know – those of you think numerically got there LONG ago, but for File 770, NYC Publishing, Left-wing authors who have been silent about the situation, or like Jemisin or Scalzi or Hines actively attacked and belittled and tried to damage and exile, and TruFen and ‘Baldrick’ Quinn…  around 2.78%. That’s all. 2.78%

Blues get 9722+(1/9 of $2500) = $99 999.78 each. Red gets 7500+(278*9) = $10 002.

Of course you have given Red 30% increase in salary by attacking him. And you have NO counter move. No redress, no lever, because you’ve already applied the full force of that. What are you going to counter it with? A threat not to buy Red’s books? Too late. False media slurs against Red? Too late. Trash talking his novels? Too late for all of it, you’ve done all that.

And at 2.78% he hasn’t even STARTED punishing you for it. He still has another 72% for total separation to go.

And it only gets worse, fast (or rather, better for Red, worse for Blue). Of course in the real world, publishers stop selling Blue books or go out of business. And Blue authors find it not worth it and quit.  Either way, if they were one of your favorite authors, you lose, thanks to the brilliant leadership of the puppy-kicker faction.  Most of the authors whose lives are trashed – will be the rank and file. The leadership who got them into this mess, will not be affected, and knew that. If you were on the other side of the equation – a Red author or reader – well, more Red authors will soon join in, so comfort yourself with the loss of your Blue colleagues, with a better paycheck. I’ll personally miss some of them, but… they didn’t step up to help me. I know: their ‘friends’ would have turned on them instead.

Here is the progression.

slide 7

And there are still people out there who say Vox Day is stupid, and PNH, Scalzi, Jemisin, Hines GRRM, Glyer, Gerrold, Gallo etc are clever and ‘helping’ the left by dividing the field, by driving people out so they will not buy sf or fantasy from certain sources?  And this is a good thing, getting rid of anyone but the left?

You can quibble trivial details about the numbers – and I’m sure Camestros will, despite the fact that I’ve said that they are indicative examples not actual numbers, but no matter how you fiddle about – the five key drivers remain the same. 1) The left wing have largely reserved the left wing market for themselves while selling to everyone. 2) While this part of the demographic remains smaller than the center and right, it will always be worse hurt by a response in kind. They only survive by NOT eliciting this response. 3) As Left wing NYC editors have disproportionately bought authors with whom they sympathize and identify, even only a small counter-response (the effect spread through a few authors) – will be very lucrative for right-wing and centrist authors AND their publishers. 4 ) The Left-wing authors and their publishers and camp followers have no counter-boycott to threaten in response, because they’ve used it already. 5) Independents and new small publishers are going to take any gaps that this creates, exacerbating their problem.

Cure, and bringing the field back together, was always going to be hard.  Given the ‘Bad Actors’ (a new SJW term for people you don’t like – or in my case, trust) in the upper echelons of the Trad Publishing establishment, who basically have everything to lose if the ship changes direction, I would say impossible. There is nothing tangible in it for the right or center to give ground without the left abandoning all 25% exclusivity – and even then, that window to do that in is small. Yet… If the ship doesn’t change direction soon it is going to hit the iceberg. But at least they’ll be at the helm.  I’m glad I don’t own shares in traditional publishing. And if I was a Blue author, I’d start quietly moving towards the lifeboats and just happen to have my lifejacket (friends on the Red Ship and lots of scurrilous stories about Blue editors to tell them) handy.

I foresee, very clearly, very soon, where authors will get punished for the public political stance of their publisher or editor. I think this particularly likely if the left wins the next election in the US. As I’ve said before – losers are bitter losers, without vast grace in victory, and I can’t see that grace. I expect the losers (either way) to widen the gap.

One thing that is for certain: there is no further compromise nor help coming from me, anyway. Unity would do the field good – but it has to be across the board – with them dealing entirely with their exclusion FIRST.

So, to those on the left of the equation: If you suddenly don’t want to Balkanize the field after all, seeing as it is a death-wish – don’t mouth pieties about unity. We’re not interested.  Show us by real measurable actions.  Deal with those we think are extremists and unacceptable. Show us how it is done. When the apartheid state in publishing, cons, awards, critical acclaim, change… we may believe you.

Interesting times.

Oh, in the nature of an experiment I have put A MANKIND WITCH on Kindle Unlimited. I am curious to see how many pages get read. The picture is a link.

112 Comments

Filed under DAVE FREER, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, WRITING: PUBLISHING

112 responses to “The Balkan Pie

  1. Cool. Let’s be bad guys. Despite how they spin it, every nominee they don’t get to pick is one more brick in the wall. And the numbers you’ve assembled seem to indicate time is running out on the old order. Will be very interesting to see if they can swing the Dragon Awards their way. If they can it will be a reprieve of sorts. But only for a while. I agree that splitting the field works for us. Viva la Revolucion!

    • Swinging the Dragon – or as they have the Hugos is NO reprieve my friend. The best financial scenario – for them – would be 1 or two, not-in-your-face Left aligned authors, and the rest very popular, well selling moderate/right. That way those 1 or two get sales and a lift and credibility with 100% of the audience. If – as usual – they cook things up to run their way – it’s the worst and stupidest thing they can do (that’s not saying they won’t do it – long term thinking is not their strong suite – as the Hugos demonstrated.) as that will exacerbate the backlash. As i said: even a few percent changes the equation a lot. And publishing is very fragile – and not making clever forward decisions either. They need peacemakers and respected people up front desperately… and they chose to elevate PNH.

      • Good then, it’s easy. Bring on the SFFexit (try pronouncing that one)! It’s been a messy breakup but the divorce will bring clarity. Adios, boring tawdry lefty agitprop. Hello, fun reading.

  2. I saw a good example of an non-Balkan sf movie today: Space Trucker Bruce. It’s an indie flick made for all of $10,000, and there are absolutely no comments about Ronald Reagan in a movie set in 2067. Pretty simple, eh? But nowadays it’s rare.

  3. Brian

    Most of these fights are proxies for the underlying US political battles. Last year was vicious. Every few weeks, they’d be another sally. I know I watched for it. As soon as the primaries cut in, the whole scene quietened down. Its not half obvious looking in from the outside.
    None of those shenanigans mattered as far as I was concerned. And then we got the arsehole convention, and the savaging of Puppy leaders . . . the sociopaths had to come out to play.
    Ratchet forward another year to the Truesdale Incident. More overreach.
    Rapprochement has been tried. The puppies tried. Various conservative and a few left leaning types have tried. And yet here we are. Still talking past each other.

    • I don’t think we’re much interested in what they have to say, Brian. Show us, yes. But talk is cheap – and all they ever do. We are ones who must make concessions, buy their books, praise their awards. And then, haha maybe one day they may give us a few crumbs. Thanks, but no thanks.

  4. freddiemacblog

    Went book shopping last night (Amazon). Really, I only intended to pick up a few more books for a series that I’d started reading last week, but saw another and another … checked my wish list and snagged a few more that dropped in price … End result: 11 books for ~$25, only one of which was from the Big Five (Dragonflight dropped from $7.99 to $2.99, how could I resist?). Two books from Castalia, the other eight were from small/indy/self-pubd presses. Note that I’m not even looking at new releases from the Big Five — I’m only interested in digital version of old favorites.

    I’ve actually had to put myself on a strict budget for books in the past few months because I’m more willing to take a risk with $2-$3 each. Some have been princes (princesses for you guys) and some have been toads, but I’m finding enough princes that I’m willing to go hunting regularly.

    Note to writers: There’s been discussion in the past about discounting books to lure in new readers, and I wanted to give my take (as a reader). Yes, I’m willing to gamble on a new writer with a discounted book (or two), but I’ve got a large (virtual) TBR stack, so I tend to lose things.

    I bought two discounted Chris Nuttal books in January, and just sat down to read them in June/July. Empire’s Corps #1 sent me back to Amazon (I forced myself to only get the next 5 books!), and I zipped through those fairly quickly. I got distracted in the middle of his other discounted book (fantasy), so I haven’t been back for more.

    So, yes there is a benefit to discounting some books, but be prepared to play the long game.

    • Yep – pricing the ebooks at and around $3-5 is the sweet spot for attracting readers; the on-line author group I was part of some years ago agreed on that, if practically nothing else. Potential readers would be much more adventurous about taking a change on a book if the cost of not liking it was minimized.

  5. SlitherKitten

    I’ve one question: is it really that traditional publishers are discriminating against the right-wing, or is it nepotism: traditional publishers are busy publishing their friends? Since most peoples’ friends share the same political leanings, the difference can be hard to determine, but I think it is an important one.

    I suspect that what is really going on is nepotism, and that even left-wing authors who don’t happen to have friends in the right places get shafted. One implication is that this doesn’t have to be phrased as a left-vs-right problem, but a in-group versus everyone else issue.

    • I think it’s more an in-crowd issue, personally, but since that particular in-crowd does self select for a particular ideological viewpoint it amounts to political blackball.

    • I think Misha answered that well. I don’t think it began so much a deliberate policy (although exceptions exist) as wannabe authors saying the right (left) things, knowing the right (left) crowd. BUT – and there is the big but – this has been pointed out now for some years – at least 9, probably more. Politely (at first anyway), but publicly and with substantiation. Instead of saying “hmm. Okay maybe I’m letting my own prejudices affect my judgement. Let’s try to be be dispassionate, and look for authors who will attract moderates and the right. Because a good mix is good for profits and profits carry ALL of the authors and business…” they’ve doubled down – and it has become a deliberate policy. Small, stupid petty-minded and short-sighted. And it has a consequence.

      • SlitherKitten

        Well, the reason that I think it is important to distinguish between “left-wing zealots” and “in-group zealots” is that there is the question of who one’s allies are.

        After all, there are a lot of left-wing people who don’t believe in identity politics. There are lots of authors who might be left-wing but don’t believe that politics should affect their profession. And, there are probably a lot of authors who really dislike having to go to a very small, very expensive con in order to suck up to a bunch of “important” people in order to make their living.

        All in all, I think that being persuasive to all those who don’t like the current set of “mean girls” can be helpful.

    • slab1

      Cadet Fourth Class?

      • Comment for comments. When you post, there are two little ticky-boxes at the bottom of where you type your post. If you tick the ticky-boxes, you get an email when new comments get posted. It’s more convenient (most of the time, when WordPress does not crap the bed on us) for some people that way.

        Replies to C4C can run to playing battleship in the comments, obscure SFnal bits of trivia, blog sing-a-longs, and even *shudder* …puns.

        The best long running blogs tend to have communities of regulars that run to in-jokes and the like. Think of C4C as one of those. *grin*

  6. Nepotism is about people who are actual family.

    Because of how publishers hire staff from only the right schools and people who have connections (and you have to have enough money to live on nothing in NYC), there is a lot of publishing friends (or friends of friends, or people who went to the correct school). That’s why virtue-signalling alone won’t get you there, or it has to be the latest greatest virtue-signalling.

    But you’re not allowed to be a friend if you have the wrong opinions, either, and going to the right school won’t help if you have fallen from grace.

  7. Wes S.

    When it comes to ” punish(ing) authors “for the public political stance of their publisher or editor,” I think a lot of us are already there, See, for example, the Tor boycott.

    In my personal case, the only Tor-published books I’ve purchased in the last couple of years have been the last two installments of Weber’s “Safehold” series, and I bought those at Kindle price.

    I even quit reading Brandon Sanderson, who I hugely enjoy, since his editor is the odious Moshe Feder (who so thoroughly beclowned himself during SP3). Which is a shame, since I was so looking forward to the two “Alloy of Law” sequels he published this past year, but I’ll wait until I can pick them up from the remainder bin or a used book seller.

    Yes, that attitude really sucks . . . but since Tor’s editors have no trouble publicly punishing its own authors (hello, John C. Wright!) and customers for alleged badthink, then why should I patronize that publishing house?

    • Agreed on Sanderson. Tor also charges an arm and a leg for his newer stuff too. I mean, $15 for an eBook?

      • Chris Chittleborough

        I’ve seen claims that Tor basically relies on media tie-ins and Orson Scott Card’s best-sellers for most of their sales, then spends it on publishing SJZ books. There may well be some truth to this.

        • ISTR hearing somewhere that Tor’s main revenue streams are OSC and Weber, now that Robert Jordan is dead. They did publish a non-SJW hard-SF space elevator novel William Forstchen wrote that was apparently a personal project of Tom Doherty, and a whole series of David Drake’s fantasy novels were published by Tor. But seems more the exception than the rule now – and I think most of the exceptions are older authors with long-standing connections to Tom Doherty.

          • Sanderson too, I would guess. Look tie in are for some wibbly-wobbly reason (and not just that reason) apparently not selling like they used to. Weber sells well, but yes, even that has been impacted by the Tor boycott – because the people likeliest to boycott are also likeliest to read Weber, Drake, and yes Sanderson. OSC… well the long tail is still a tail. They need some new BIG earners – supposedly Scalzi? I don’t think so, but I might be wrong.

    • Matthew

      Currently not buying Tor, and Sanderson is on my “don’t bother reading the blurb, just preorder the book” list.

    • Wes, what I see is this (which was always a feature in the inner circle of Fandom) spreading steadily out. As I said – it doesn’t have to go far to become a serious problem for the Left.

      Tor, I fear, has become SO associated with an extremist Left Wing position, that it probably – short of firing at least four major figures, and basically the entire staff of Tor(dot)com – there is really no way back for them. Yes, there are a few good authors, Brandon, John Wright, that I wish weren’t in that mess, and a good few minor/new ones I feel sorry for. But seriously: they need to look to moving on as soon as possible. Yes, it is hard, but I see a minor left wing literary future down the present course.

  8. “And if I was a Blue author, I’d start quietly moving towards the lifeboats and just happen to have my lifejacket (friends on the Red Ship and lots of scurrilous stories about Blue editors to tell them) handy.”
    Oooooooooooooooooooh! Says Sarah as the weirdness in her recent social life is suddenly explained.

    • Charlton Heston and his anti-gunny friends during the King Riots comes to mind for some reason

      • Robin Munn

        Got a link to a story about that? I’ve never heard about that before and would love to read more details. I mean, I know who Heston was, and in Hollywood I’m sure most of his friends were, or thought they were, anti-gun. But I have no idea what they did during the Rodney King riots, and/or whether any of them quietly changed their mind afterwards. (I’m sure if they changed their mind in public they would have suffered for it.) I’d love to know more.

        • It was in an interveiw and they all called him looking for firearms. So he tossed their “Reasonable Laws” back at them. ***wanders off to see if the video exists***
          Nope.
          But there is several quotes from his autobiography (this one copied from of all places the Washington Post!)
          One is aware that in his 1995 autobiography, “In the Arena,” Heston offered his thoughts on the importance of well-defended perimeter.

          “Most people in the film community are unfamiliar with firearms and many oppose them, some quite virulently,” Heston wrote. “During the L.A. riots in 1992, a good many of these folk suffered a change of heart. As smoke from burning buildings smudged the skyline and the TV news showed vivid images of laughing looters smashing windows and carting off boomboxes and booze, I got a few phone calls from firmly anti-gun friends in clear conflict. ‘Umm, Chuck, you have quite a few . . . ah, guns, don’t you?’

          ” ‘Yes, I do.’

          ” ‘Shotguns and . . . like that?’

          ” ‘Indeed.’

          ” ‘Could you lend me one for a day or so? I tried to buy one, but they have this waiting period . . . ‘ ”

          This waiting period, indeed.

          Heston concludes the lesson with the warning to looters eyeing his boomboxes and booze. “Our only neighbors on our ridge are the Isaacs. Between us, Billy and I must own at least 40 firearms of various types. We would resist with deadly force any assault on our homes or those who live in them.”

          Because Charlton Heston holds the high ground.
          The Post left off the rest of it:
          “Yeah, I know; I remember you voted for that. Do you know how to use a shotgun?”

          “No, I thought maybe you could teach me. This is getting a little scary.”

          “I noticed. I could teach you, but not in an hour. You might shoot yourself instead of the bad guys. The Marines are coming up from Pendleton; that’ll end it. When it does, go buy yourself a good shotgun and take some lessons. It doesn’t get so scary then.”

          Heston said his friend writer-director John Milius had more calls. His answer was more forthright: “Sorry. They’re all being used.”

          • Draven

            And those people complained to the Assembly about the fifteen day waiting period and how the Brady bill said we could have instant checks once we were connected to NICS, and so the Assembly lowered it…. to ten days.

        • TRX

          No link, but I was one of the people who were surprised when he switched from gun control spokesman to NRA celebrity.

          I never trusted celebrity conversions. I figure his agent or PR firm told him it would build his target demographic.

          The NRA got a celebrity and he got a lobby group that spent as much money promoting Charlton Heston as they did gun rights. I guess they both figured it was a fair trade.

    • Yes. It’s going around.;-/

  9. It’s interesting that you dropped “The Martian” out of the pie because I think it illustrates another factor–the traditional publishers are trying to sell Science Fiction Books to Science Fiction Fans. Indies want to sell books to readers. That in itself deals a death blow to the myth of the limited pie. Most of enthusiastic fans do not self-identify as SF/F fans, they like my books because they like my characters and are open to new ideas.

    • Left a word out. “most of my enthusiastic fans…”

      • It really grates that “speculative fiction” has come to imply a certain sub-sub genre of urban-fantasy meets magical realism, because it would be a great way to lure the “I don’t read sci-fi or fantasy” people into nibbling more of the genre.

        • I think that the key to discoverbility (?) in a post-chain bookstore market is to work groups interest groups on the internet. The Monster Hunter International series got a lot of traction on firearm enthusiasts message boards. I’ve managed to get a lot of fans from alternative sexuality sites. I know a woman who writes mysteries with a detective who knits who has gathered fans from knitting groups.

    • sabrinachase

      The Martian is especially an outlier because it was a roaring indie success before tradpub managed to get it. In other words, it *proved* it was good before they had anything to do with it.

      I can just imagine their response if it had been submitted in the usual way. “What, one guy all by himself growing potatoes in his own shit? Nobody wants to read THAT!”

      (puts snark hat on) Besides, who can he oppress when he’s the only one on the planet? And the only ecology is the one he’s growing?

      • It’s worse that that. If The Martian had shown up in some intern’s slush pile, it’d have gotten tossed out pretty much automatically. Man Against Nature? A male of the species violating the pristine habitat he’d already invaded? Man? Abomination! Just another patriarcho-colonialist attempt to whitewash the universe, essentially un-personing Mars. Rejected with prejudice.

    • I don’t believe the pie is quite as inflexible as the establishment makes out. I think lack of what they want has shrunk it a lot. How much we can get back, how much new ground we can gain with the young – a different question.

      • The fact that ebook sales continue to increase (not anywhere that Nielsen BookScan can see, of course, most growth occurring outside ISBNs) shows that there is a market out there. I remember reading that there are two broad categories of book buyers: the five books a year or less group, which is very large and the main driver behind mega-bestsellers, and the 30-50+ books a year avid readers, which is smaller but is what keeps the backlists and most genre fiction alive.

        My semi-educated guess is that cheap ebooks are contributing to the growth of the second segment of the market. But the Big Five seem to just want to cater to the first segment and produce a handful of mega-sellers that in turn support their passion projects.

        • Yes, ISBN numbers I suspect have misled the ‘publishing experts’ like Shatzkin badly. And overpricing e-books to protect print is their strategy. I think unless they know something I don’t… they’re daft.

        • kentuckydan

          30 to 50 books a year? ONE book a WEEK? I would go into withdrawls

          • Some of us have professional reading that crimps our fun reading.

            • Dragonknitter

              Yeah, doctoral research liberally tainted with SJW cr*p even in healthcare is really making me crabby, since I also have to cut back severely on my “fun” reading…

  10. “The ‘net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” Well, broaden that to technology (sure, you can seal the border and license printing presses… but then came radio transmitters outside the borders…) and, in time, you get this.

    Or, they’ve pushed things so hard one way that they’ve managed to create a vacuum. And how does nature treat vacuums? Technology (and new ideas of running business are in that, too) open doors. The vacuum *cannot* hold.

  11. In addition, if there is a division where sales of blue authors fall (and it does not matter if they are Fox news blue or USElectionAtlas blue) considerably, the dollar value of the cut of the pie taken by the publishing house may prove…inelastic. I am reminded of the famous state university that announced it needed major budget cuts, and hired a bunch of new administrators to manage it. The result will be that money for authors will fall faster than indicated.

    • George – you have absolutely the nub of it here. I already know a fair number of ‘adequate’ blue authors (not the core darlings, but ones who said and did all the right things) either out of work or feeling the pinch badly. And – Stockholm syndrome – it is male discrimination to blame. Or by some convoluted ‘logic’ Bush. Or Republican spending cuts. Or Trump. But it’s never the publisher and never themselves.

  12. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    Dave does it again with an excellent analysis of the way the number don’t work for traditional publishing.

  13. I didn’t intentionally become an “I only buy Indie/Baen(/Castalia*)” reader, but that does pretty much cover my book buying over the last few years. It wasn’t intentional, and I have tried now and again to find other stuff but it has generally failed. There are two reasons.
    1) content.
    Almost everything that I see from trad pub is unappealing
    2) price
    And just about everything that is attractive from trad pub is massively overpriced. Apart from eARCs I will not pay more than $10 for an ebook and I tend not to pay more than $6.99. Almost all trad pub ebooks are over $10

    *Castalia only showed up on my radar as a publisher by accident and hasn’t yet got the Baen automatic buy everything they publish thing, but I’m finding more and more that the publish that I like

    • The “only indie is readable” is becoming how I buy mystery. There are a couple trads I still buy, but most are honestly appalling. Not even “left-appalling” just bad.

      • I wonder if it is a toxic combo of political affiliation+too much formula+echo-chamber+careless (and care less) editing? I re-read Mary Stewart, Margery Allingham, et al rather than most modern mysteries.

        • Same here – plus Robert Barnard, who wrote the most wonderful stand-alone mysteries. And aside from a brief mention in “Out of the Blackout” where he was a bit snarky about Maggie Thatcher – no politics. Or … no contemporary politics. And since he passed away a couple of years ago, no chance of him disappointing us all by going all SJW now.

          • aacid14

            They keep reprinting and updating the ‘classics’. Soon Robin Hood will fight rich merchants as opposed to corrupt govt.

        • The closest I’ve come to a “modern” mystery in the last 5 years is Laurie King’s “Mary Russell” Holmes pastiches…. and they’ve become somewhat rarer as the price has gone up. At this point, I’d rather buy Stephanie Osborne’s Displaced Detective.

    • Birthday girl

      Ditto here. I only made it conscious last year … will no longer buy new from any legacy house but Baen. And even there, I buy their ebooks, so less spendy. But i honestly cannot remember the last time I bought Big-5 fiction retail – I only get used dead-tree copies any more, $15 ebooks can go … take care of themselves. Really, who needs BigPub any more, with the entire world of indie publishing open for business. Big Sky Country.

  14. Chris Chittleborough

    See also “The Problem of Engagement”, which Toni Weisskopf wrote as far back as March 2014. (See also the extraordinarily hostile reaction from the Blues.)

  15. BobtheRegisterredFool

    Re: Stereotype that only the left reads

    This is part of the same group of stereotypes that contains ‘Scotch-Irish are trash’. The belief that the Scotch-Irish are a lower order of civilization on the North American continent has been present among certain big city populations for quite a long time.

    • Uncle Lar

      I understand that “Help Wanted, No Irish need apply” was quite popular not so long ago.

    • Speaking as a Scots Canadian, we are the most dire bunch of barbarian assholes in the world, bar none, and we don’t know our place. If we did know it we wouldn’t stay in it anyway.

      That’s why Canadians are famed for their manners in the USA. Manners are a survival issue in the Demented Dominion.

    • good grief. Now in MY family the Scots ones are held to be the respectable ones. That’s never been part of the world-picture down here.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Scotch-Irish were one of the groups of settlers in the colonies. Early on, they were deep into the frontiers. I understand that a lot of them ended up in the Appalachians, and were known there for desperate poverty, perhaps even to this day.

        They have had an enduring influence on American culture. Walter Meade wrote up four factions in the American foreign policy debate. The Jacksonian Tribe is named after Andrew Jackson, America’s historic first Scotch-Irish President, but might be better described as the Scotch-Irish cultural inheritance. This faction is not one that has much favor with the left these days.

        Note that the Irish were a very different immigrant movement from the Scotch-Irish. I do not have as firm an impression for Scots immigrants. Except I have some very offensive remarks about one particular half-Scot.

  16. I will note here that as external support for Dave’s contention, The Pew Research Foundation released a report citing that 44% of American households have guns now.

    This is interesting, in that Pew is the source of funding for much of the anti-gun propaganda these last 30 years. If they are saying 44%, it is likely much higher.

    Taken by itself this is a sign of considerable popular concern, given that previous polls have put the number at ~34% for a long time. Given sales numbers I think we can assume they were lying about 34%, but still.

    However of greater note is that people have simply stopped listening to the scolds, by their own numbers. The media and officialdom have never been more down on guns. Eight years of Obama gun hate, my friends. Eight years of never-ending propaganda.

    Completely ineffective!

    In my humble opinion Peak SJW was probably reached during the Bush Administration.

    Therefore our little friends in the publishing world are essentially running on fumes.

    • Yep. Publishing, and the press in general are ALWAYS way, way way behind the public mood. I put peak SJW as 2007 myself.

      Gun numbers always seemed a bit of a mystery to me – I have a very effective .22 made in 1935. It’s good for another 100 years. They don’t wear out fast. How do the numbers stay static, despite strong sales year on year?

      • Population growth and for years most firearm purchases were by those who already owned them. Offhand I don’t have hard statistics on first-time firearm buyers in the US.

        The big thing here these days seem to be AR-15 style rifles, which makes the liberals get a serious case of the vapors, but isn’t surprising given the history of civilian arms based on military designs. Remington no longer makes semi-autos in the “traditional” style. Anyway, that’s the latest thing.

        • Draven

          sure they do its just rimfire.

        • Kevin I agree the percentage ownership might remain the same. But for at least 10 years (maybe longer) I’ve been seeing precisely the same total number reported.Quoted ad infinitum with horror. But despite gun sales the number is the same total they quoted last year. With the same horror. And the year before. And the year before… I really, really don’t think anyone has a true figure.

          As for the military look – I have ‘disarmed’ quite a few folk up in horror about ‘assault machine guns’ explaining that they are a military looking semi-automatic – and that as an Australian farmer with a vermin problem, I could buy one legally. It’s all in the words. Most folk don’t realize these are not full auto.

          • Draven

            No Dave, they really don’t. and many honestly believe that the cartridge they fire is more powerful than a ‘normal hunting rifle’

          • Back in 1992/93, an interesting thing happened in Canada. The new Liberal government under Jean Chretien and Justice Minister Alan Rock instituted the much hated (and now defunct) National Firearm Registry.

            Of note at the time was that the Official Estimate on the number of gun owners in Canada went from around 7 million, already low given sales figures, down to 3 million. This was utter nonsense of course, and was widely decried at the time.

            As Dave notes, firearms do not usually deteriorate. Plenty of rifles from World War I remain perfectly serviceable to this day, over 100 years later. And by plenty I mean pretty well all of them that weren’t left out in the rain.

            Most guns made or imported over the last 50 years and more are still in circulation. The popular figures regarding number of gun owners are poppycock. The “rifle behind every blade of grass” estimate is probably closest.

          • Well, it’s not so much the same now as it was in years past. My WAG is that it’s not quite ten years since the shift. Have absolutely no numbers to back up my assertion.

            A few weeks ago I had someone tell me they didn’t think anyone should own a semi-automatic. After I gave them a “What the ****?” look, I asked why not, and they did this number about rapid fire. I came within a hair of saying “So, you’ve never seen The Rifleman?” Instead, I mentioned lever actions also had a rapid fire rate. Don’t think it registered. Ultimately it came down to the “scary looking rifle.”

            • A trained rifleman was supposed to be able to deliver sustained and aimed fire at a rate of ~20 rounds per minute with a Lee Enfield rifle and a pile of stripper clips. The configuration of the bolt makes it possible, if not actually easy.

          • Uncle Lar

            On those numbers, one must always look at the organization funding the poll in question, who the pollsters ask, what questions are asked, and the manner in which those questions are presented. The very well funded anti gun special interest groups desperately want to minimize the popularity of firearms, make gun owners into a fringe minority if at all possible.
            And too, an anonymous stranger at your door or on the telephone asks about firearms in your home. Just how likely are you to divulge the truth?
            People lie, either in self defense when their privacy is threatened, or simply out of human cussedness. Given observations of polls this political season I predict that the way they have been abused in attempts to sway the public they may have permanently tarnished whatever confidence may have once been attributed to them.

        • TRX

          Remington’s last semis were bulky, odd-shaped devices that looked like converted autoloading shotguns.

          The Model 8 and 81 were much nicer but apparently quite expensive to build; few of John Browning’s designs made any concession to economical manufacture. Still, though they’re practically unknown today, they had a half-century production run.

          • Uncle Lar

            Remington recently moved much of their operation out of Ilion, New York, relocating to Huntsville, Alabama, mostly due to the very ironically named Safe Act passed in New York prohibiting many classes and features of firearms.
            Huntsville now produces Remington AR platform modern sporting rifles under the Bushmaster and DPMS brands. They are manufacturing several styles of semi automatic handguns as well.

          • Just checked. They offer the R-15 and R-25 GII, the latter in a 7.62 x 51mm, which seems an odd choice. Or maybe such rounds are more plentiful elsewhere: My possibly mistaken understanding is the 7.62 x 51mm is close but not the same as the .308, which here has gained ground on the .30-06. Sorry, Remington: Nothing against that type of rifle, but if I was going to spend that kind of money, it would be for a Browning.

        • Bibliotheca Servare

          Except the AR15 is a civilian rifle that the M16 was based on. That is, the civilian version came *first* not the military version. Even Wikipedia is forced to acknowledge (however begrudgingly, and with as many caveats and dismissals of the relevance of the fact as it’s possible to squash into one article) that truth. It sounds pedantic, but they (the lying, ignorant, totalitarian hoplophobes, that is) spout that line of bull, so I always take any opportunity to point out that it *is* bull, just for the sake of thoroughness. No offense intended. 🙂

    • Sam L.

      Nay, ’tis HIGHLY effective, for selling firearms and ammo. Heh, heh, heh, and MWAH-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah (with the rubbing of hands and self-satisfied smirk).

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Dunno, I’d say we’ve only reached Peak SJW in the past year or so and are now moving into the inevitable cultural backlash.

      • I think we hit apogee/plateaux in the general public’s private opinion some time back, but it takes time to start falling back to visible deeds etc.

    • Has to be higher, as I don’t know a single gun owner…. and I know a couple hundred…. who would answer that question honestly. Most would just hang up. The thing to remember about any poll you see is a) no one but an SJW or other idiot believes they are actually anonymous; they’ve got your phone number, and b) the increasingly open retaliation for WrongThink means that people who do answer are likely to give whatever the PC answer is.

      Thus Brexit. And thus probably Donald Trump. The Bradley effect has certainly never been more real.

      • Anecdata, but I know a half-dozen women who have gotten their first firearms/CCHL in the last two years. And yes, no one in my circle of associates would answer a phone poll about firearms ownership honestly. It would probably degenerate into a Liars’ Poker contest once word got out that someone was calling asking about firearms ownership.

  17. Bill Scott

    I read Mankind Witch a couple of years back; so much fun.
    Safehold is purchased used (Honorverse is purchased ebook or hardcover; you know why).
    Good column Dave, as a retired math educator I appreciate your analysis.

    • Thank you. I wanted it as clear and simple as possible, as so many people have an irrational fear of maths, and just don’t think the numbers. To me it’s so obvious I can’t imagine not thinking them, but it is key to remember that isn’t how everyone sees the world.

  18. I was discussing this at a con a few weeks back and I think you explained it more thoroughly than I could. Basically, if you are on the left and ardently signal that you are on the left (which I’d say has almost become a requirement), then you are competing against the other left wing authors, both established and new. It doesn’t matter if you go hard left because so many other writers are going hard left as well. At a certain point you turn off those who are even just mildly left. There are many, many, many, hard left authors who signal incessantly they are hard left. It’s hard to get noticed, hard to stand out, and hard to get attention in the teeming mass of sameness. This affects the moderates as well since barring evidence most readers (becoming used to the hard core left signalling) are going to assume that you too are hard left unless you find a way to explicitly state in the work that you’re not. But will they believe the moderate? Or will the moderate (and I’ve seen this a bunch) also do the hard left signalling to try to fit in?

    But if you are right wing you’re only competing against other right wing authors and there are much fewer of them who have been allowed to publish (in traditional). Yes, there are less readers currently, but fewer authors going after those fewer readers means that a writer can be an outsize success.

    Very simple math. But I could not get through to the person I was talking with, their point being that I should mold my writing towards that majority of readers, editors and publishing houses in order to raise my chances of success. Which wouldn’t work at all for a few reasons; first I’d be competing for readers with the majority left writers, and they would actually believe the crap that is coming out of their mouths whereas I’d always be brushing my teeth to get the stink out. They have passion for their ideals and I don’t and therefore I would be writing something I didn’t believe in, and didn’t have passion for, and didn’t want to read, and certainly don’t want to write.

    It’s a trap. Try to mold the conservative dude into something he’s not and he’ll never be the best version of the writer he can be. No passion, no joy, and hey, no writing done. One more conservative writer that dies stillborn. That’s the chilling effect. The strident voices can be easily argued with, shouted down, stood up to, but it’s the pernicious whispers of reasonability (that is not reasonable at all) that I think trips up more new writers.

    A note on Mankind Witch; I think it’s easily my favorite of that series since it follows the best characters from that series and tells a more focused story. I liked the other books but there were parts that slowed me down, not due to politics, but I’m not sure the writing styles fully meshed in the collaboration. They were very good, but not my thing. Though that could have been due to how big a fan I am of Mr. Freer’s writing and I think I was looking forward to reading his work more than others. Mankind Witch worked on every level for me though and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Also, for anyone on the fence; it’s part of a series but I don’t think you need to read the series to enjoy this book, Mr. Freer does an excellent job of setting the characters up, re-establishing the setting and making you like the characters. Beautifully done, I only wish I could read it again for the first time instead of the fourth or fifth time.

    • vavu2009

      I think there are more readers of the right who read, than the left. That was one of the things the o.p. was trying to point out. Publishers and writers who insist on writing left wing crap are (as they love to say) fighting on the wrong side of history.

    • Dodgethebullet
      “There are many, many, many, hard left authors who signal incessantly they are hard left. It’s hard to get noticed,”
      This. It’s also become like the only recipe they try. It’s a bit of a crab-bucket too, and an incessant game of high-school girl-interpersonal politics. Unless the important mean girl approves (which usually means you helped suitably bully one of her current rivals) you’re going nowhere. And secondly not only is their less competition, but the level of nastiness to newcomers just isn’t there – I suppose we’re not fighting for scraps. Or maybe we’re like folk under siege, helping each other.

      I don’t think you’re right about less readers. They’d like us to believe that. The biggest difficulty making contact with those readers.

      And I’m glad you enjoyed AMW. Eric, bless him, did his best to blend everything, but Misty and I write very differently. AMW is how I would have written all of them, left to myself.

    • Sara the Red

      There is an author of an urban fantasy series I quite, quite liked. Their politics I did not care about one whit, despite a few eyebrow raising screeds here and there. They were infrequent, however…at least at first.

      The final straw, however, came about with this author’s last book. Sadly, good plot and character arcs were sacrificed on the altar of virtue signaling–as in, a character who had been a mildly interesting background character was suddenly brought front-and-center and given an ‘approved diversity checkbox’ nature that was thenceforth treated as THE only important defining characteristic/virtue of said character. The plot, such as it was, was weak and colorless, because the author’s entire energy was centered on the virtue-signaling via the checkbox character.

      Now. I don’t care if a character is gay/trans/whatever-else-might-be-in-style–so long as that is not the character’s only real defining characteristic, and also so long as it is not used in place of actual plot. Too many of the lefties fail to realize this, and as Mr. Freer said, they’re so busy signaling to each other they aren’t noticing that they’re losing readers like water through a sieve. Because where once I would preorder this author’s books without a qualm, I will not be buying any more of their stuff at all. I may check out the next book in the series from the library, in the hopes that the excessive virtue-signaling was a fluke, but if not, then I’m done entirely. And I have several friends who I got into the series who are having the same reservations as me. Weak writing is weak writing, and my funds are too limited to waste on such.

      • Matthew

        The Last Herald Mage books were quite good. Sure, Vanyel was gay and this caused issues with his family, but it was far more important that he was a kickass mage ready to die for his duty.

        • Sara the Red

          Exactly. He was a multifaceted character, of which his sexuality is only a part!

          • At least by the time we get to the end of the third book. The extended pity party in book two got tiresome. Yes, important to overall plot arc, but at one point I was hoping his Companion would kick him in the head and shake him out of the mope.

            • Matthew

              He does get more than a bit angsty in Magic’s Promise, but to be fair, he’s still in the aftermath of Tylendel’s death, is dealing with his family for the first time since being Chosen, and is dealing with a *major* disaster at the same time.

              A bit of self-centredness is to be expected, I’d think.

      • Pretty sure I know exactly which urban fantasy series you mean there. While it didn’t completely ruin the book, it was by far the weakest of the series so far.

  19. “I foresee, very clearly, very soon, where authors will get punished for the public political stance of their publisher or editor. I think this particularly likely if the left wins the next election in the US. ”

    Won’t be just authors. What you’re seeing in publishing is what’s happening all across American life. The only time in American history I’ve ever seen this polarized was the 1850s.

    • Snelson134 – yes that was my impression, but writing is the only area I have a lot to do with. As a resident of one of many small states that derive some shelter from the US I can’t say I’m happy about this. Not that I can do anything about it, or would try (your country, not mine) but I do wish the guys with most to lose would figure out they had most to lose.

  20. airboy

    In political and history writing it used to be dominated by the left excepting political memoirs from famous politicians. There were a few tokens (George WIll, Buckley, etc…). But several right spectrum political books got published and sold like mad. Then the major publishers established editors or houses to publish conservative political and economic books.

    Baen has shown there is a strong market for action/adventure that is not biased towards the left. How many best sellers have Ringo & Correia produced? Amazon then started publishing military SF by Kloos and others because they saw the market.

    If a large company does not act on a proven market they get hammered. It happened in political books and has already happened in SF. I think that the political self-selection issue in SF is already being solved by the marketplace.

    Only in the last 2 years did I realize that I had purchased a bunch of SF books from only 2 editors. They moved to different imprints – but it was the same two guys (Jim Baen was one).

  21. Mary

    Perhaps we should refurbish the old slogan: Let’s get SF back in the gutter, where it belongs.